Six cultural institutions to be awarded $800,000 in grant initiative honoring the joint legacy of the 62-years-married artists Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason
The grant recipients’ focus areas reflect the life that Emily and Wolf built together as prolific, academically influential artists living between New York City and Vermont, from their 1956 introduction until Emily’s 2019 death
Vermont Business Magazine The Wolf Kahn Foundation, jointly with the Emily Mason | Alice Trumbull Mason Foundation (the distinct organization devoted to the legacy of Emily and her mother), has announced $800,000 in grants to six art institutions in New York City and Vermont. This includes $100,000 each to the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center and the Vermont Studio Center. Following the $8.1M single-seller Christie’s sale of works from the couple’s art collection in May 2021, the gift round marks the first joint philanthropic initiative of the two sister Foundations and pays homage to Emily Mason and Wolf Kahn’s personal experiences and collective passions across five intersecting themes: New York City; access to arts education; Vermont; gardens and the natural world; and printmaking.
Since 1968, Wolf and Emily were deeply connected to Vermont by way of their beloved farm in Brattleboro. They ritualistically spent summers there as a key part of their art practices; while they first and foremost were “New York artists,” Vermont was where they found respite and were most productive, surrounded by nature. The Vermont landscape is pervasive in Wolf’s oeuvre and the basis for some of his most vibrant compositions; “Wolf Kahn is to Southern Vermont what Georgia O’Keeffe is to the New Mexico high desert and Claude Monet is to the French countryside,” remarked Danny Lichtenfeld, the director of the region’s largest art institution, Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (one of the 2022 grant recipients). While the finished result of Emily’s work was more greatly informed by New York City and the aura of her Chelsea studio, her fundamental creative process (and approach to color) were undeniably affected by the time she annually spent in the wooded surroundings of her Vermont studio.
The couple had a deep mutual respect with the local community and indelibly touched thousands through their regional philanthropy, like once saving a crucially serving primary school from eviction by quietly providing essential funds.
In their Vermont home, second only to their poetry collection (Emily Dickinson in particular), Emily and Wolf had bookshelves of meticulously sorted literature on botany and other specific aspects of the natural world. Two shelves on “mushrooms” alone. This reverence had a pervasive presence in both of their art-making practices and lives, with expansive gardens and greenhouses in New York and Vermont alike. They were unorthodox green thumbs, throwing in something exotic or cultivating a wild plant into a feature – not unlike how they each delighted in defying formal tenets of art-making (through application methods, chemical paint dilution, etcetera). Their philosophy to creating the gardens they took pleasure in surrounding themselves in (and constantly nourishing and expanding) very much mirrored their art practices.
While Emily and Wolf were painters first and foremost, their advocacy of the print medium and willingness to push the form as accomplished printmakers in their own practices was evident throughout their lives. They particularly believed in the collaborative model of working with master printers around the country, as well as the multitude of notions of “access” – from art collecting to the creation process itself – that printmaking afforded.
An overview of grant recipients is below, followed by details of the individual grants and their designation.
• Brattleboro Museum & Art Center
• The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts
(Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop)
• International Print Center New York
• New York Botanical Garden
• Hunter College
(Advanced Curatorial Certificate Program)
• Vermont Studio Center
Vermont Studio Center – $100,000 – GRANT DESIGNATION: Seed funding for the Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason Fellowship, granted to a visual artist annually and selected by VSC’s admissions department. The organization will also be honoring this gift by naming a studio space in honor of Emily and Wolf.
Wolf Kahn and Nari Ward at Vermont Studio Center in 1988. Courtesy photo.
NOTES: Emily and Wolf both participated in residencies during their young careers and fervently believed that residencies provide crucial, formative spaces for new artistic ideas.
LONGSTANDING ENGAGEMENT: Wolf and Emily were named “Honorary Founders” of VSC, having been involved since its 1984 inception. When Jon Gregg approached Emily and Wolf with his idea to establish an artist residency in Johnson, Vermont, the story goes that Wolf told him he was crazy. Despite Wolf’s proclaimed skepticism, both he and Emily (who loved out-of-the-box thinking) proceeded to support VSC through its growth into one of the largest artist residency communities in the United States.
Brattleboro Museum & Art Center – $100,000 – GRANT DESIGNATION: Creation of the Wolf Kahn & Emily Mason Exhibition Fund, a perpetual endowment supporting an annual exhibition with a special focus on emerging artists, historically overlooked artists, or curatorial projects dealing with issues such as social justice and climate change.
NOTES: BMAC is Emily and Wolf’s Vermont hometown museum, a non-collecting contemporary art institution focused on the work of living artists. Founded in 1972 in the town’s historic train station, BMAC brings internationally notable art, artists, and curators to Brattleboro, and provides a prestigious showcase for the region’s own artistic riches.
LONGSTANDING ENGAGEMENT: Emily and Wolf supported BMAC since its inception and are the most significant annual donors in the history of the institution. Wolf was an active member of the board, and the central exhibition gallery was named in their honor in 2010.
ABOUT EMILY MASON AND WOLF KAHN
In 1956, Emily Mason and Wolf Kahn met at The Artists Club in New York City and that summer, they worked in studios in Provincetown. The following year, Mason was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study abroad in Venice. Kahn joined her in Italy and soon after, they were married at the municipal building in Venice. Mason and Kahn shared much in common – both grew up in artistic families and while they had formal educations, each had important and memorable artist mentors. Mason acknowledged valuable lessons from David Smith among others and Kahn studied under Hans Hofmann.
Emily and Wolf in 2017 at their beloved Brattleboro farm, where since 1968 they had spent summers. Photo by Diana Urbaska.
Mason developed her individual approach to painting with veils of vivid pigments and spontaneous mark-making and found her place between Abstract Expressionism and Color Field Painting. Kahn became known for his unique combination of Realism and Color Field Painting, working across a range of media including oil, pastel and printmaking. When Emily’s mother Alice Trumbull Mason first saw Emily and Wolf’s work hanging side-by-side in 1956, she wrote to Emily: "I was so pleased to see that your work held its own so well and that you were a good influence on him.” While the question of formal influence between the two is a topic for academic debate, they each maintained an expert critical lens (and status as a sounding board) for the other’s practice.
A STRUCTURAL NOTE ABOUT THE TWO SISTER ORGANIZATIONS
THE WOLF KAHN FOUNDATION // THE EMILY MASON | ALICE TRUMBULL MASON FOUNDATION
In 1998, a foundation was established in Emily Mason and Wolf Kahn’s names, devoted to the couple’s philanthropic activities during their lifetime. In 2022, a reformed structure into two organizations was formalized, in order to delineate activities pertaining the combined legacies of Emily and her mother Alice Trumbull Mason (1904-1971) from the those pertaining to Wolf Kahn's artistic legacy. Together, these two Foundations (the Wolf Kahn Foundation and the Emily Mason | Alice Trumbull Mason Foundation) preserve the vision of three artists—in one family—through exhibitions, publications, research, archives, and philanthropy. The 2022 joint giving initiative between the two Foundations honors the original spirit of Emily Mason and Wolf Kahn’s giving activities, which focused on exhibition grants, artist residencies, cultural facilities, and community arts engagement, with an emphasis on advancing opportunities for traditionally underrepresented artists.
New York, NY — Summer 2022 — The Wolf Kahn Foundation